Students from six universities are pitching news stories and supplementing national reports for ABC News in a high-pressure program that uses technology and video-editing software while training students for future journalism careers.
ABC News On Campus was launched last year, drawing students from five campuses across the country who were selected after a thorough application process that created college news bureaus of five or six participants at each campus. The University of Nebraska was added to the program this fall, and students’ broadcast stories are garnering local and national attention on ABC News web sites.
ABC News On Campus isn’t just an advanced internship for up-and-coming journalists, but a resource for the news organization in reporting breaking news stories, said John Green, executive producer for the On Campus program.
Last April, when a gunman killed 13 people and himself in a Binghampton, N.Y., community center, ABC News On Campus dispatched Meghan Lisson–a senior at nearby Syracuse University at the time–to capture footage from the tragic scene. Lisson grabbed her camera and drove an hour and a half to help cover the story.
"The idea was to build mini-bureaus that would function very much as if they were satellite news bureaus for ABC," said Green, a former senior producer for ABC’s "Good Morning America." "They’re getting real-life experience with us."
ABC News investigative and business journalists talk with On Campus student reporters about strategies for news collection, writing, and broadcasting.
ABC didn’t want to limit college-based reporting to the 30 students in the On Campus program, so the company solicited story ideas from "roving reporters"–journalism students who could submit video stories or story pitches in an online submission form.
Kasey Hott, a senior broadcast news major from West Virginia University, was selected by ABC in August as the Roving Reporter of the Year. Hott, recognized for her broadcast story on the second anniversary of the Virginia Tech shootings, got an all-expenses-paid trip to New York City and meetings with top ABC News executives.
On Campus student reporters receive laptops, DVD cameras, and the editing software program Media Composer, made by technology company Avid. The editing program lets students edit video news reports immediately after shooting video. Without the cutting-edge equipment, students would have to wait until they got back to their campus newsroom, Lisson said, which adds hours to creating breaking news pieces.
Pitching stories and fielding calls from ABC News executives, she said, required an adjustment for students not accustomed to a high-pressure work atmosphere.
"They wouldn’t sugarcoat anything," said Lisson, 22, who now works as a page at NBC headquarters in New York. "If they didn’t like a story, they’d tell you that. And if they loved it, they’d tell you they loved it."
Students are also schooled in how to craft stories for certain audiences. "Good Morning America," for instance, runs shorter segments geared to a mostly female audience. Stories for ABC’s "Nightline," Green said, are generally lengthier and watched by more men.
Working with 20-somethings, Green said, has helped ABC News decision makers evaluate the news consumption of young people as they stray further from traditional media outlets.
"We do get a lot of great insight into what this particular audience is looking for in terms of news coverage," he said, adding that On Campus students also have contributed stories to ESPN and ESPN U, a network dedicated to college sports. "And we’re lucky the program is helping identify the cream of the crop at these universities, with the hope that we can keep them and bring them into ABC."
ABC News’s name recognition has helped student journalists nab stories and interviews they might have missed if they called from their on-campus newsroom. Lisson said she landed an interview with the founder of controversial college gossip web site JuicyCampus largely because she was affiliated with a major news organization.
"That would have never happened if I was doing it for my campus paper or my campus news station," she said. "That happened because it was on that national level."
Schools in the On Campus program are the University of Florida, the University of Texas at Austin, Arizona State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Syracuse University, and the University of Nebraska.